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Welty, Eudora.

LETTERS: Correspondence with John Ferrone.


Welty to Ferrone
On Writing, on Eating, and on Being Famous
Welty, Eurdora. Correspondence with John Ferrone. 1980-2000. A collection of 59 letters from Eudora Welty to John Ferrone - her editor at Harcourt, Brace Jovanovitch - broken down as follows:
22 autograph letters signed, some with enclosed clippings
16 typed letters signed, some with emendations or enclosed clippings
10 autograph postcards signed
7 Xeroxes of the earliest letters Welty sent Ferrone
two typescript copies of Welty's Introduction to her Collected Stories,
various Xeroxes
photographs (including 11 taken at a pet cemetery)
26 of Ferrone's typed carbon and Xerox replies
Welty wrote her letters on a variety of papers: she frequently used her personal stationary for her autograph letters - a small, nearly square leaf of paper with her name and address stamped at the top in navy blue - or a plain or lined white paper; she typed on plain white or onionskin paper. She sometimes wrote on hotel stationary, and there are two letters written on stationary from colleges. The photographs on the postcards she sent attest to a quirky sense of humor. Her handwriting is small and neat, at times so loosely spaced that the letters run away from each other and turn into a muddled scrawl; the lines of her autograph letters, however, are conscientiously spaced for easy reading. Often, in both her autograph and typed letters, she snakes her last few sentences up along the margin of the page to finish her thoughts; and she frequently adds post-scripts. Some of her typed letters have handwritten emendations.
Even though the first few letters begin formally with the greeting, "Dear Mr. Ferrone," early on in their relationship Welty switched to the more familiar, "Dear John," and often signed off as "Yours," or "Love, Eudora." Welty and Ferrone's relationship progressed to the point where she stayed with Ferrone at his house in the country.
Welty began corresponding with Ferrone in spring of 1980, when Harcourt took on her Collected Stories, with Ferrone as editor, and continued through a relationship that long outlasted its publication. Throughout the editorial process, Welty was active in making decisions about the arrangement of stories included in the book, as well as edits within the stories. In a letter dated June, 1980, for example, she asks Ferrone to take out the word "nigger" from one story, explaining that it was written forty years ago and the word has since has become "out-of-character and glaring." She also suggested textual changes after reading the galley proofs.
After the Collected Stories had been mocked-up, Welty wrote to Ferrone a thank-you for allowing her to see a copy of the proposed design and the jacket for Collected Stories; her response is indicative of someone with a keen eye and appreciation for the physical aspects of books: "Thank you for giving me this early book and jacket - It's handsome, I think - with those Roman capitals and compact design of the lettering, and the nice bordering of the scarlet in the title with the gold on the black below - It's bright and solid-looking at the same time - that's a rewarding way for a publisher to present one's book - I hope you feel pleased with it" (July 25, 1980). Two months later, when the book was published, Welty continues in this vein:
It's been most handsomely made, and I like so much the warm color in the cover & binding, and the design of the flowers from the title page inside the fold across the front. And inside there's a generous feeling of old-time spaciousness in the design - the elegant title pages and open typeface and wide margins, so pleasing to the eye - And it has a nice heft, the book - nice? It weighs in as unbelievable - do those pages really add to 622? I keep being tempted to pick it up - I feel proud that you brought it out - I'm aware of the care & patience you yourself have put into the book, and I appreciate it very much. (September 19, 1980)
The hard work on everybody's part paid off; the Collected Stories made the best-seller list, and Welty thanks Ferrone for informing her about this welcome news: "I'm sure we both felt how good but how amazing it was! And even if the book just stays for 15 minutes, the Best Seller list is a nice place to visit, isn't it?" (January 24, 1981).  Welty is similarly proud about scholarly recognition: "(this is a secret) Columbia is giving me an honorary degree on the 19th, which pleases me very much" (April 7, 1982). She often talks about speaking and reading engagements she's agreed to do, and awards and honors she is slated to receive, all with modest detachment or benign amusement (April 10, 1982, March 4, 1984, and August 2, 1985, for example). However, this stems from feeling overwhelmed, not ungrateful. In one letter she mentions, "I'm to be one of the recipients of a gold medal from the Council on the Arts (I think) & am to be handed it by Pres. Reagan at the White House. (Can I take this from him?)" (June 10, 1986). Ferrone accompanied Welty to Washington to accept the medal, and she later thanks him:
It's been such a pleasure to me to think what a wonderful time I had on my trip, so much of it owing to you, You were so generous and in every way kind in coming to Washington, and I can't imagine how all that could have happened or been gone through without your being there….Your presence was very stabling. I was glad to know you were there both as a friend and a witness. It helped me to enjoy the whole thing. It's hard for me to be in public, without having a piece of work to do like reading something that's written. I might have fallen down trying to stand on that little piece of paper in front of Mr. Reagan, or I might have bitten Mr. Weinburger at the State Dept. reception. Of course my gratitude for the medal was real, and knowing it came from the NEA is what gave it its real meaning. (August 22, 1986)
Welty's tone throughout her correspondence is chatty and colloquial; she and Ferrone often shared gardening news and frequently mention their love of food, especially fresh, garden-grown produce, and many of her letters reflect a sensitivity to the environment and an interest in the beauty of nature. She's especially conscientious when she addresses issues concerning her writing. Both of these traits are evident in letters from the summer of 1981; in the first letter (undated), she begins by addressing edits to a set of proofs for a Foreword she is writing: "I do see that besides saying 'all' all the time, I said 'again' again. First page, second paragraph, line 5. Does this bother you? If you think we should delete the second 'again' and say instead 'seems to expand further and expand ahead of us,' please change it.… John, I leave it up to you for I realize time is short. I'm trying to watch myself on these repeats, but I've been tardy - and this Foreword is such a special thing." Later, she begins a letter full of mouth-watering imagery: "I imagine you're down at your farm today eating, at the end of all those other good fresh things, raspberries and cream. They are celestial, that's what I think about raspberries…I associate them with breakfast on the diner on the elegant Chicago train, or brief visits to the east - thinking on the way 'there'll be raspberries.'…The local celestial treat is in season now - figs. A bowl of fresh ones with sugar and cream for breakfast" (August 1, 1981).
That winter, Welty thanks Ferrone for an advance wrappered edition of Collected Stories, and she praises the design and the review quotes from her friends; perhaps seeing this book in print spurred her to write again, for she mentions, rather off-handedly, "This last week I just got up one morning and started to write fiction. I feel like new. It may or may not be good, but that can be seen to later" (December 7, 1981). She rarely refers to the pressures of being famous, but she does mention in one letter the hindrance of fans and requests for signed books when she's trying to write:
I taped a sign above my doorbell that I would prefer not to sign any more books for a while as I was trying to work - this was the day after I signed 38, though that included 25 for the same person, not the usual - but of course they still come by mail. My helper is grand with taking the pressures off in letters - some day we'll catch up. And maybe I'll get a little terrier dog, to help me with people who stop in the street and point at me in my window typing. While I was writing this letter, some people out there brought out some binoculars and trained them on me, passing them from front to back seat. (August 22, 1986)
Indeed, Welty often apologizes to Ferrone about getting behind in her own correspondence to him.
An engaging collection of letters illustrating a beloved writer's relationship with her editor; as well as an informative look into her own life.

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